A BIT of life and some precious goodwill are wasted whenever we fail to apply common sense and tolerance in reacting to an opinion.

Now there’s a T-shirt slogan we’d like to see printed up (it might need a very long shirt) and distributed to the South Shore regional school board and its staff.

For until it came to its senses on Friday, the board had been living proof of that message — to a tee.
It had spent an absurd effort over the past few weeks trying to browbeat 19-year-old William Swinimer into not wearing his evangelist T-shirt to school. Only after a public outcry greeted this officious overreaction to complaints about the shirt's printed message did the board relent and say Mr. Swinimer can wear his “Life is wasted without Jesus” tee when he returns to school on Monday.

In the meantime, the Grade 12 student has been subjected to a five-day suspension, a 12-day in-school suspension and a lot of woolly advice on how to edit his shirt so that it won't be offensive to others of different beliefs. The board had also said it would consult a human rights expert to determine if the message was disrespectful, which was a funny way to respect Mr. Swinimer's right to due process. Punishing first and determining wrongdoing later gets the process backwards.

Now the board is doing what it should have done in the first place. It will get students together to talk about the issues raised here and how to deal maturely with differences of opinion and expression.

The board was certainly not a model of this when it argued that the message on the shirt offends some students by telling them their beliefs are wrong and that Mr. Swinimer could not be permitted to impose his views on others.

This shirt, of course, has no power to do any such thing. Nor is it reasonable to twist a statement of the student’s own belief into an attack on anyone else’s. That belligerence is simply not in the language itself.
What our schools should be teaching in such cases is tolerance: that no one is hurt, or needs to take offence, in simply being exposed to an expression of faith or an idea he or she doesn’t agree with. Students will encounter such ideas their whole lives — as they surely have already. Their school years would be an excellent time to teach them that it’s not a big deal.

You can listen, consider, debate or not debate, and modify or not modify your own views. What you can’t expect is that some authority is going to show up and remove all views but yours from your world. Hopefully this is the sort of discussion that will come out of an otherwise great waste of time and energy.

If you have not heard about this story, take a look here:  CBC, National Post